Let’s look closer at Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s last public address I posted yesterday in full. It was jotted down by one of his disciples and then published in Gaudiya magazine, which was Gauḍiyā Maṭha’s main publication. The English translation from Bengali can be easily found elsewhere on the internet. A book by HH Bhaktivikāsa Svāmī has several footnotes that deserves to be included, too, but let’s start at the beginning.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī never in his entire life took any medicine, he put his health solely in the hands of Kṛṣṇa. We are not advised to imitate him in this but we should at least know that it’s a possibility and only our immaturity as aspiring devotees is stopping us from following his footsteps in this regard. Our conditioning puts us at the mercy of the material energy, if she tells us to take medicine than we should not act as if are liberated, we depend on her and on her help but Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta didn’t.
Having said that, he still behaved as a conditioned living being – experiencing pain, old age, constant battles with his mind etc just like the rest of us. For him, however, all those troubles were external because he didn’t identify himself with his body. We do, we think it’s us who get old and sick, and we hardly ever notice our mind wondering away from Kṛṣṇa’s service, we just happily go along for the ride, only occasionally catching ourselves on deviations. When we think of liberation we expect that all these troubles would stop but from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s life we can see that it won’t be the case. Birth, death, old age, and disease will continue but we won’t take it personally and to outsiders the advantage provided by Kṛṣṇa consciousness will be impossible to detect.
So, even if Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was aware of his imminent departure he continued with his service without interruptions. He left his body in the morning of January 1, 1937, yet he spent whole of November giving daily lectures on Śrīmad Bhāgavatam in Purī which lasted for several hours each. When he was returning to Calcutta in the beginning of December quite a few people realized that they were seeing their guru for the last time. He became bedridden on the 18th of December, only two weeks before departure, and the last public speech was given on the 23rd. After that he just didn’t have the power but regularly listened to devotees singing songs by Bhaktivinoda and Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākuras.
A couple of doctors approached him but devotees joked that instead of treating him they got a treatment themselves – spiritual treatment, that is. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s arguments were simple – this body is given to us for engagement in Kṛṣṇa kathā and so harināma is the only suitable medicine. The doctor in Purī whose main proposal was to restrict Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s lecturing got it the heaviest and was left completely bewildered that all his learning was completely blown to pieces. He didn’t expect that a patient would be so clear in his dedication to Kṛṣṇa’s service that he’d forgo his personal bodily comfort even when threatened by death. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta wasn’t fanatical either, it’s just that the condition of his body had no effect on the condition of his consciousness, mind, or intelligence.
His last speech began with asking forgiveness from those who were thought to be his enemies. Our Śrīla Prabhupāda did that, too, and some have misconstrued it to mean that he abandoned his disciples and took shelter in his godbrothers instead, finally realizing the error of his ways. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s apology, however, makes it clear that all this enemy making business was for people’s own benefit and he hoped that one day they will surely realize it. That’s how we should see our Prabhupāda’s
apology, too, even if it was worded differently, as far as I remember.
I have upset many persons’ minds. Many might have considered me their enemy, because I was obliged to speak the plain truth of service and devotion toward the Absolute Godhead. I have given them all those troubles only so they might turn their face toward the Personality of Godhead without any desire for gain, and with unalloyed devotion. Surely some day they will be able to understand that.
He then told his disciples to propagate the message of Rūpa-Raghunātha and become particles of dust at the lotus feet of rūpānugas. That they should live only for Hari-bhajana and nothing else, completely ignoring the opposition and lack of appreciation. Several Sanskrit terms probably need clarification here. Aśraya-vigraha that he asks us to take shelter of (and it was a message to all aspiring devotees everywhere, not just to those present at the time) could be understood to be either guru or Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. The advaya-jñāna that we are supposed to serve is the realization of transcendental nature of Kṛṣṇa’s form, qualities, pastimes etc – that they are non-different from Kṛṣṇa Himself. It is a transcendental, fully spiritual platform as opposed to our mundane vision of duality. It doesn’t mean advaita.
Then he implores us: “Let our bodies, which are like those of aged oxen, be offered into the saṅkīrtana-yajña of Lord Caitanya and His associates.” Aged oxen were the ones that were offered in Vedic sacrifices, their bodies considered useless for anything else and fit for rejuvenation through a yajña. This is a very fitting description of our condition regardless of our age – we are no good for anything but saṅkīrtana. All our other achievements are only an illusion. Once again Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta reminds us that “..our constitutional position and all in all is to in every birth to become dust at Śrī Rūpa-Raghunātha’s lotus feet.” Note “in every birth” – he is not telling to go back to Kṛṣṇa and be done with it. Being of some use to Śrīla Rūpa and Śrīla Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmīs is not only superior utilization of one’s soul but our only goal, this blog’s name not-withstanding.
He also speaks of Bhaktivinoda-dhārā, which is “the line of Bhaktivinoda”. It will never stop and it is our duty to make sure it is so. He then again stresses importance of serving Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī by quoting a verse by Śrīla Raghunātha: “Taking a blade of grass between my teeth, I fall down and pray again and again to become dust at Śrīmad Rūpa’s lotus feet, birth after birth.” He can’t stress this enough – devotional service is not about making sure we are spiritually alright but it is service to our ācāryas. He doesn’t say “go play with Kṛṣṇa in any rasa you like”. That’s not our goal, it’s a proposition for the neophytes, we should know better.
Then comes the part about dealing with inconveniences and his solution is not to worry about it. We should not be overwhelmed by troubles not desire to overcome them. That’s the answer to the question why he apparently didn’t do enough to save Gauḍiyā Maṭha from disintegration. It was certainly an obstacle in the mission of Lord Caitanya but the instruction is to simply carry on with service, not aim to overcome the obstacles, which would make us attached to the result. Kṛṣṇa-sevā-rasa does not arise in those who are still concerned with attachment and detachment.
He admits that such an understanding might be baffling because every human being in this world wants to overcome various difficulties. However, as devotees our only requirement is to transcend this platform, go beyond dualities, and “enter the kingdom of eternal necessity”. Once again he reminds us: “we have no love or hatred toward anyone in this world. All arrangements made herein are but temporary.” It’s impossible to make enemies in the course of devotional service, people might think that way but they’d be wrong, and we ourselves certainly should not see anyone as our enemy, nor should we love anybody either. Not mothers, not fathers, not wives and husbands, not children – nobody. All these are only material forms covering the essence, which is that they are all sparkles of Kṛṣṇa’s energy.
In his concluding paragraph he again asks us not to feel dejected while engaged in seven-tongue flame of saṅkīrtana-yajña – a reference to seven auspicious qualities mentioned in the first verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka, and he concludes by once again imploring us to preach Rūpa-Raghunātha-kathā. He repeats the importance of this service to Rūpa-Raghunātha so many times that we should finally get it in our heads that it’s the only thing that matters in our lives. I hope it registers but we should also know how to differentiate the real service from lip service given by many pseudo-devotees, but that’s the whole other topic, extensively covered by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta himself. Just not for today.